Get In the Boat!
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5; Mark 4:35-41
Last Sunday, while we celebrated VBS Sunday, and did a good job of it I hasten to add, it was also Father’s Day. Today we mark a less recognized celebration, Open and Affirming Sunday, as Gay Pride Parades dot the countryside. There are also other marches, protesting the increased violence against families at the US southern border.
It is a difficult thing to talk about the power of love, even in the church. It is a complicated thing to talk about sexuality, especially if you do not stay within the carefully constructed male or female duality. We know that love transcends boundaries, but some of our social constructs are precious to us. We become afraid that if there is a change in the definition of terms, our whole world may fall apart. Fear causes us to react in extremes.
The text from 1 Samuel is one that gives comfort and support to the gay men in the Bible reading community, and to all of us who have compassion for them in their love/hate relationship with the culture. I believe it helps us to be aware that there is support for love without boundaries within the text.
Jonathan meets David for the first time, and there is an instantaneous “love at first sight” event. Jonathan is a prince, the son of the King. His sword and armor are instantly recognized by the fighting forces, and the wider community. They are symbols of his privilege and authority in the community. In this alternate telling of the “discovery” of David by Saul and his court; Abner, the leader of the Army, introduces the victorious David. He is honored by the King. Jonathan, the son of the King, is thunderstruck.
On occasions when this text has been mentioned in the past, it is usually highlighted as a special ‘brotherly’ bond between the two. But consider for a moment the implications if Jonathan were meeting a woman for the first time. And upon that first greeting he makes gifts to her of his cloak, and armor, and symbols of his royal family; then we would characterize this as a great romantic meeting of two souls. The scene would be described as carrying clearly sexual overtones.
There are sexual references abounding within the description of the relationship between David and Jonathan. There is evidence that this relationship is so distasteful to Saul, that he makes continuous attempts to break them apart. He forces David into marriage with one of his daughters. He thunders at Jonathan that his behavior is a disgrace to the family honor. If you read the story, even allowing the possibility that this was a romantic pairing, you will see I am speaking the truth.
The Tuesday morning Bible Study is currently looking at First Samuel. We already know that the characters in these chapters are three dimensional. They are not reduced to shallow constructs, moved around within a morality play, where the “moral of the story” is so overt that the characters seem docile.
Instead we have actors involved in scenes of high drama. There is danger lurking around every corner. One moment David is being honored, the next moment his life is being threatened and he is chased around the countryside. All of these too-real moments are presented within the context of the relationship between Israel and their God.
God, who was reluctant to allow the people to have a King, remains faithful, while the King becomes increasingly distracted by the demands of public life and vanity. In a world where daily headlines are focused on the rich and powerful, their personal exploits, and the intrigues of war and rumors of war, the voice of God is difficult to hear and trust. After all, God does not seem to set boundaries on the madness of the King, or the humanity of the king’s family. The King’s family might be easier to manage, if the kids are simply greedy or self-indulgent, and not presenting a different way of seeing the world.
In the gospel message, the disciples are in a boat trying to cross the lake we call the Sea of Galilee. This body of water sits about 30 miles from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, a body of water that is more than 100 times the size of Galilean lake. Storms can race from the Mediterranean and across the Sea of Galilea very suddenly. A small boat in a big storm is a dangerous place to be.
We live our lives in the same kind of world that the Bible describes. Natural events and storms can change our routines in an instant. Plans made weeks in advance, can be set aside indefinitely when the tornado rearranges the neighborhood. We can become so focused on the big events of nature, or governments breaking established taboos and alliances while trifling with the attention of despots and dictators; the reality of our own relationship with the God of creation seems to lose its place in the context.
The boat is swamping, and Jesus sleeps in the stern of the boat. We ought to at least wake him up so he can help us. He helps everybody else. Come on Jesus, don’t you see, we need you?
Jesus looks at us in disbelief. “Really, do you not know how much I love you? Do you not trust that I will be with you through any storm?” It is very hard to keep our mind on Jesus, when the social structures that we have put together over decades are being pulled apart by rich and seemingly indifferent bureaucrats. Our entire comprehension of justice is undermined when children are imprisoned and held as ransom for a despicable border wall.
Saul is driven to madness, at least in part by his fear and disgust at the relationship between Jonathan and David, and through it all David is blessed. The story is not about David and Jonathan. The story is not really about David and Saul. The story is about Israel and God. And yet, David and Jonathan and Saul are all a part of that story. The relationship between David and Jonathan survives the push and pull of the father-son relationship of Saul and Jonathan. The relationship between them, does not distract God. Love is just love.
The story of Jesus and the disciples on a boat in the storm, is not about storms. Or maybe it is. Maybe, it is about storms because we all are vulnerable to attacks by forces that are seemingly beyond our control. We are vulnerable to events, both natural and human-made; events that arise when it is not convenient for us. Our email ‘in box’ fills up, on the weekend of the family funeral, when our eyes are so full of tears that the words on the screen seem to drip down the page without meaning.
The assaults on our sense of loyalty and partnership are so breath taking that we are disgusted; and the disgust is magnified by our seeming inability to reduce the madness by doing any one thing that has the chance to turn the tide. The country that we love has taken to parading around the stage of the world, dressed as a villain, and devoted to cruel acts - against poor humans, to massage the egos of the self-important.
And Jesus appears to be asleep in the stern of the boat! Can’t he see where this is headed? Why won’t God answer our prayers? It feels like the ship may sink.
Ships do sink you know. Entire nations lose their sense of purpose and direction. The fascination with the rich and famous can suddenly change the entire discourse for decades to come. The madness of the insatiable greed for wealth, inevitably races towards economic depression. I have read about 1929. The system crashes when the rich deplete the fat of the land, and the integrity and ingenuity of the working class has been reduced to a memory. The gap between the rich and the poor becomes so wide that those who used to live contentedly in the middle, are plunged to the bottom. Their own modest holdings swallowed whole by insatiable egomaniacs.
Get in the boat with Jesus. Turn your attention to the will of God. Speak up for justice and mercy. Do not let the chaos of the storm permit you to think that God is any less than God. Do not let the fear of money silence your conviction to speak out against cruelty. Do not let the crude machinations of a world - that manipulates “the law” to protect privilege, justify your own silence. Pray to God, and live with integrity, Amen.